Brookfield Zoo closed out 2017 by welcoming a newborn gray seal on Dec. 26.
The male pup is currently behind the scenes nursing, learning to swim and bonding with his mother, 13-year-old Lily. The yet-to-be-named pup is the third for Lily and the sire, Boone, who is also 13. The pair’s two previous offspring – males Charles and Ziggy – now reside at Lincoln Park Zoo.
The pup weighed 36 pounds at birth but is on track to quadruple his weight by the time he is weaned at three weeks, thanks to the fat-rich milk he is receiving from his mother.
“I suspect he’s going to be in the 125-pound range by the time he’s done weaning,” said Rita Stacey, the zoo’s curator of marine mammals.
Gray seals have one of the shortest nursing periods among pinnipeds, a group of marine mammals that are winged- or web-footed. In the wild, pups must grow quickly because once they are weaned and grow a darker coat, they are on their own to head out to sea to hunt.
Gray seal pups are born with long, white fur called lanugo (pronounced la-NOO-go), which is molted in two to four weeks and replaced with shorter, stiffer hair similar to that of adult seals.
“He is certainly adorable in that big white fuzzy coat,” said Stacey, adding that the pup’s white coat will start falling out next week. By the time visitors are able to see the pup on exhibit in mid-February, he will have developed a dark brown or black coat, Stacey said.
The pup’s birth is crucial to maintaining the gray seal population living in managed environments in North America, Stacey said. Although the species is not threatened in the wild, there are only 25 gray seals currently living in 10 North American zoos and aquariums.
“We’re really excited about this birth,” said Stacey, who oversees the gray seal population management plan for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. “We really need to be planning and breeding well so we can have a sustainable population.”
As keeper of the AZA’s gray seal studbook – a playbook for managing and sustaining a species’ population – Stacey documents the pedigree of each gray seal, information that is used to make breeding recommendations to keep the population diverse and healthy.
“In such a small population, we want to make sure we’re not breeding related animals,” Stacey said. “The studbook keeps track of when the animals came in, where they came from, who their parents are [and] did they come in from the wild?”
Those interested in tracking the pup’s growth can view updated photos and videos of him on the zoo’s website.
Nov. 7: You’ll need to look closely to spot Lincoln Park Zoo’s new baby monkey. The infant, born Oct. 15 to first-time parents, is barely visible as it clings to its mother’s neck.
Oct. 25: One of Brookfield Zoo’s newest tenants recently emerged from her mom’s pouch and can now be seen at the zoo’s Australia House.
Aug. 8: Zingo, the first black-crested mangabey born at the zoo, has light-colored skin that will darken over time.